Sears Canada faces online calls for boycott over treatment of ex-employees

Sears Canada is facing a social media campaign calling for a boycott after the company said it planned to pay millions in bonuses to keep executives on board during restructuring, while not offering severance to laid-off workers.

The retailer’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments from people vowing not to shop at Sears, and the hashtag #BoycottSearsCanada has been gaining traction on Twitter.

Sears Canada, which is operating under court protection from creditors, began liquidation sales on Friday at 59 department and Sears Home stores slated for closure.

The company has said it plans to cut approximately 2,900 jobs, without severance, while paying $9.2 million in retention bonuses to key staff as part of a court-supervised restructuring process.

Sears Canada spokesman Joel Shaffer has said the payments are common during the creditor protection process and are designed to keep key employees motivated with performance indicators and incentives to successfully close stores.

The deal was met with fierce backlash from social media users, many of whom wanted the retailer to know they were taking their business elsewhere.

Sears Canada declined to comment on the boycott call.

Retail analyst Bruce Winder said Sears is up against a public relations “storm” that could spell the end of one of Canada’s most trusted brands.

“People don’t like it when big brands behave badly, in their opinion,” Winder said in an interview. “It’s a powder keg for social unrest.”

Winder, who co-founded the Retail Advisors Network, said most consumers are workers themselves and they have long memories when it comes to perceived injustice against people they see as vulnerable, such as retail workers.

He said the boycott could hurt people still working at the stores, but it may not make a difference if the retailer goes out of business.

“I don’t think (Sears) is going to survive this,” said Winder. “Unfortunately, those employees are probably going to find themselves out of work anyway.”

Dan O’Reilly, who is participating in the boycott, said he’s spent tens of thousands of dollars at Sears over the past 35 years, but has been shopping there less in recent years because he’s noticed a decline in customer service, which he said is no surprise given that the company treats its retail workers like “pieces on a game board.”

O’Reilly said he doubts that losing a once-loyal Sears customer will persuade the company to treat its ex-employees any better. The 64-year-old retiree acknowledged that the boycott may have an impact on the remaining retail staff at Sears, but said the “writing is on the wall” for the retailer, and he won’t be sad to see his local outlet in St. Catherines, Ont., shutter its doors.

Tracy Brown, who is also boycotting Sears, agreed that the campaign may do little to affect former retail workers. But even if it only hastens the inevitable, Brown said she wants to she wants to hit Sears executives where it hurts: their paycheques.

“The only kind of voice you can be heard with is what you’re not spending in their store any more,” Brown said in an interview. “My message to (Sears) is that you’ll never get another dime of my money because that dime is going right into the one-percenters’ pocket.”

Brown, a 54-year-old painter from Stratford, Ont., said driving to Toronto to see the Christmas display in the Sears storefront has been a family tradition since she was a child.

This holiday season, Brown said, she won’t be making the annual pilgrimage to Sears with her kids, because she refuses to hand over her hard-earned dollars to a company that, to her mind, rewards mismanagement at the expense of store-level workers.

Brown said the retention bonuses were “a slap in the face” to all of the retail workers who have been sweating on the front lines for years or even decades. She said the top brass at Sears Canada let the company fall into financial disarray, and they should have to pay for it.

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